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Interview with Matthew Levitt

The U.S. has introduced new rules to make sure overseas aid is getting to the right people.  Matthew Levitt, from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy has said that the government needs more control over the aid funds.

Levitt Matthew: The Partner Vetting System (PVS) is intended to give the Government a better sense of who they are doing business with and who their partners are. To date the U.S. has not had a sufficient vetting system and what it has led to in several cases, especially the in Palestinian case, is that the U.S. government is trying to give much needed development aid but a lot of that money has ended up going groups like Hamas.

Russia Today:  A number of NGOs in the U.S. have already expressed their concerns about this new private vetting system. These organisations cite reasons such as an excessive administrative burden and some privacy concerns. How do you respond to that?

M.L.: In terms of the privacy issues that have been raised, there is a reason for concern, because people get concerned whenever you talk about giving data that is going to be stored by the government. The government should be able to come back and explain how long this information will be stored, what it will be used for. We need to have a better public-private sector dialogue, so that people have some level of comfort, but, on the other hand, the private sector should not get hysterical every time the government says it needs to be able to check. There has to be a balance, it has to be well thought out, it has to be logical. The truth is that there is not cost burden here, the administrative burden is minimal. We are talking about basically filling out one page – two pages of paper that explain who the key people are, what their phone number is, what their passport number is, mostly so that they can be excluded as potential concerns.

RT: Some critics of the Private Vetting System have pointed out that the Bush administration failed to provide adequate information on how the data collected on employees of NGOs will be used. So, is there a chance that the data collected might be misused?

M.L.: The nature of running intelligence and law enforcement checks is that you are not going to be able to be told what checks are going to be run, what databases are going to be used. That is classified information. What the government needs to do is to be able to establish more of a relationship with the private sector, particularly the charitable sector here and the development sector, so that they have some level of assurance.